Claudel & Rodin. Together But not Forever. Part I

Claudel & Rodin. Together But not Forever. Part I

Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin have firmly melded their lives, their art, and their talent into one. But was the reality as romantic as it appears in history?    


© Musée Rodin - Auguste Rodin
© Musée Rodin - Auguste Rodin

The great sculptor and his brilliant associate met in 1880 in the studio of the private Colarossi Academy. This academy was the only place where Claudel could create her masterpieces, as not only were women admitted, but they were also allowed to work with nudes. This was very progressive in the eyes of Parisian society at the time. Rodin came to the workshop thanks to rumours that a more sensuous sculptor than him had appeared in Paris. He never expected to see this sculptor as a 17-year-old fragile girl. Two years later, however, he welcomed Claudel into his studio as an assistant and became gradually fascinated by her, her talent, and her ideas.

© Musée Rodin - Camille Claudel in 1884

The master and his apprentice shared not only a studio, but also a life. They fell in love with each other and could not part. Rodin introduced his lover to his patrons, critics, and friends in high society in Paris and, in doing so,introduced her into society. At the end of 1888, Rodin rented for them both a romantic old townhouse in Paris for use as a separate studio. Claudel made this her home. Gossip had it that she subsequently secretly bore Rodin children and recovered in the countryside.

However, their storybook life was overshadowed by Claudel's mood. She was unhappy that she had to share the love of a genius with Rose Beuret, who supported him entirely from his first days as a sculptor. Claudel hoped to marry Rodin. Even at the beginning of their relationship Claudel constantly tortured Rodin with scenes of jealousy and asked him to leave Rose. Their quarrels and scandals gained momentum and Rose became increasingly suspicious and began following him around. Rodin was torn between his art and two women, and he had to choose. He stayed with Rose and distanced himself from Claudel.

Problems in personal life have also led to problems in work. Claudel was tired of being seen by the critics and the public only as Rodin's assistant and not as a self-contained artist. Rodin was troubled by confusion in his personal life as well as a loss of control over his best collaborator, Claudel. All this was affecting the health and well-being of everyone involved. Rodin experienced a creative crisis and Claudel was steadily going mad with love and losing her interest in sculpture.

Claudel decided to walk away from Rodin. During this time she produced her most famous works but even this didn’t bring her the success she desired. She worked hard but earned very little. She could not get government orders, it was mainly miniature sculptures that sold, and her physical condition was deteriorating along with her psychological one. At that time Rodin was going through a creative crisis, producing one-off orders. He spent more time at social gatherings, taking advantage of his established reputation and spending less and less time in the studio. 

Claudel returned to Paris, not to work, but to seek answers. She felt abandoned and forgotten. She began stalking Rodin and waiting for him in places where he was supposed to appear. Often, she did not meet him, but rather Rose, which only made Claudel’s condition worse. Rodin preferred not to pay attention to his former muse's problems, but we can be sure that it bothered him (many memories from his friends remain). To solve this problem, Rodin sent Rose to live temporarily in the country house where he once spent time with Claudel.

Claudel rented a small flat, which was also her studio. And all day long she was sculpting something out of clay, and then smashing her work to pieces with a hammer. In 1905, because of the constant nervous breakdowns, Claudel developed paranoia and aggravated mania of persecution. She was convinced that Rodin was exhibiting her work in the salons, passing it off as his own. Alcohol exacerbated the illness. She wrote that Rodin was sending assassins after her.

 Eventually the unfortunate woman was forcibly admitted to a psychiatric hospital where she spent the rest of her life. When Rodin came to visit Claudel, she had another serious breakdown, after which the doctors forbade him any visits. After all, in her opinion, and rightly so, it was Rodin who had put her in an asylum. She spent more than 30 years there and died in 1943.  

In 1917 Rodin married Rose Beuret, his longtime mistress. Two weeks after the wedding, Rose died. Due to stress and many chronic illnesses, Rodin's condition worsened, and he spent the entire time in bed until his death on 17 November 1917.

© Musée Rodin - Auguste Rodin with his companion Rose Beuret 1916
© Musée Rodin - Auguste Rodin with his companion Rose Beuret 1916

Mutual admiration for talent, art, stone, and movement enclosed within it, as well as feelings for each other, were the solid foundations for a long romance, the end of which devastated both Rodin and Claudel.  For a long time, it was thought that Claudel was just one of the many pupils and mistresses of the great Auguste Rodin. However, thanks to the opening of her own museum in Nogent-sur-Seine in 2017, it has been possible to revisit her genius and her work.

© Musée Rodin - Auguste Rodin in 1916
© Musée Rodin - Auguste Rodin in 1916

In the next article, we will take a closer look at the works of Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin and do a little research. Was Claudel just Rodin's assistant or did her art influence him more?